Wearing Religion

My necklace was tangled, and I was late, and frustrated that my fingers weren’t quite working the knot out as quickly as I’d wanted them to. And I’d cursed under my breath because everyone else would be on time, with their necklaces untangled, unknotted, free, and I’d need to sneak in the back with my head bent, eyes down, mind heavy.

And that’s the story of my relationship with religion.

I was in college, and I’d been nice, quiet, compliant for twenty years. I’d volunteered, said my prayers, never littered. And I suppose it seeped in slowly – a breeze blowing into the back window – as I’d sat in a row of metal folding chairs while those around me sang, and the guitar on stage grew louder and the drummer’s beat pounded in my head and I thought: What if this is all wrong? What if I’ve gotten it all wrong?

It was my first knot.

Two weeks later, I was a lifeguard at a summer camp for church kids like myself, and when I closed the pool for the evening, I ran to my cabin, shut the door and read through everything I knew about the Bible – footnotes and highlights, old bulletins, random verses scrawled onto index cards.

And I’d wanted to encounter something, right then, in one night. I’d wanted the answer – is this true? is this the only way? – and I’d wanted it to be revealed to me like it happens in the movies, or in the books – a flash, a glimpse, a vision. Perhaps a burning bush? I’ve never been above a neon sign.

But the bush didn’t burn. I read and I read and I read, and I fell asleep in the thin pages of Psalms, heavy eyelids, weighty heart.

This story does not have a natural arc. There is no climax, no integral moment where the main character changes her ways – vanquishing doubt and gaining perspective in a single, earth-shattering event. It’s just that I never really left the thin pages behind.

There were seasons where my Bible sat dusty on my nightstand, for weeks or months, but then, on a random rainy Tuesday afternoon, I would return. There were seasons where my nighttime prayers were replaced by the scrolling of Instagram, the watching of House of Cards, but then, on a late Sunday night, I would return. I could not stay away, it seemed, not out of love, but out of curiosity.

What if the answers were tucked in the thin pages? I have always wanted to know.

I once read that adopting a religion does not mean you have learned the answers, or that you have discovered God. It simply means that you are committed to wrestling with it all. You are committed to returning to the thin pages when you don’t feel as if there are any words for you inside. You are committed to speaking to a God you cannot hear, and you are committed to looking for a God you cannot see.

And that is what my necklace, my religion, looks like. It is tangled, battered, but there is just enough space for me to pull it over my head and wear it, in all of its knotted glory.

In the past few months, I have encountered so many women with knotted necklaces of their own, women who believe that the damage is irreparable, who have tossed their necklace into the street gutters to be washed away in the midnight rain. The knots are too tangled, they have said. It is of no use to me now.

Still, the thin pages beckon.

Last month, after returning home from a business trip, the lariat in my bag had been bumped around enough times to produce a knot near its pendant. I wrestled with it, poking and prodding and muttering under my breath, and still, it would not give.

I’d thought of tossing it, but it was a talisman for me. It had been a gift from a friend to celebrate a momentous occasion, and it had meant something to me. No, it could not be tossed.

And so, I tucked it in a drawer. I will keep it, and I will try again tomorrow.

  • I love this metaphor! And, I’m right there with you… tangling and untangling my chains on a regular basis. And, although I long for the tidiness of unwavering faith, I’m just beginning to understand that perhaps the journey through doubt is what makes it beautiful and worthwhile.

  • So much synchronicity. I alluded to this yesterday but isn’t it amazing how when you are in search of something, everything you read begins to connect or you hear people say things that echo each other? It’s like the universe is winking at you.
    “If there is no mystery, if you have all the answers, you cannot call what you do faith.” Heard that the other day on “Super Soul Sunday” < not so guilty guilty pleasure…
    & it gave me great peace with my knots.
    x

  • This is my first time visiting your blog. Your post spoke to me. I grew up in what is probably a similar background to yours. And while I haven’t left my faith I’ve always struggled with the fact that I seem to have more doubts than the people around me (why is it that more people weren’t offended when we prayed for someone who ended up dying?). It has taken me a long time to realize that this is who I am, and I may never completely know who God is. Those who say they can explain Him are misguided. There are no formulas. There may not be lightning bolts. I’m learning to stop creating Him into the image that I want Him to be…some sort of celestial Santa Claus that prevents bad things from happening. Maybe it feels like prayers aren’t answered…yet there are those times when I know, I just know, I’m not alone. I think this whole thing is so much bigger than we can ever imagine. And I think God has much grace for the doubters. Because some people aren’t even thinking. And mindless religion is not the same as a hard-fought trust.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Deb – I had to smile at the celestial Santa Claus comment. Ha! And ah, yes, what a gift God’s grace is for the doubters. :)

  • Thank you for sharing. I’m in a similar boat.

    My pet peeve with religion is when people act like the know everything. Have you read Glennon Melton Doyle’s “Carry on Warrior”? I find that through that book, and her blog (momastery.com) she offers refreshing perspectives on Christianity that ignite a spark in me. :)

  • Hi Erin,
    I was intrigued by your post and appreciate your desire to wrestle with difficult questions. However, I couldn’t help but feel that your assessment of others “who have tossed their necklace into the street gutters” is hasty and inaccurate, implying that those who walk away from religion didn’t want to “wrestle” with the frustrating or hard parts. Speaking for myself, I came to believe that, using your metaphor, continuing to work on the knots in a necklace which never fit right and I didn’t like in the first place was a waste of time. That maybe “tossing it into the gutter” was the most freeing decision I could make. Just my thoughts.

    • Oh Heather, this makes complete sense! Thank you for bringing this to my attention! I see how the metaphor would be assessed this way, and I do apologize for painting it in a hasty light! Religion is anything but hasty and can never be painted in wide brushstrokes, so please accept my apology. I can certainly understand that those who might have been offered ill-fitting necklaces must conjure great courage to toss it away and search for something else. I hope you have found it, or are on your way to discovering something that offers a bit more truth for your soul.

  • Lovely words, Erin. I certainly wear a knotted necklace! Please can I ask what bible is pictured? I love the look of the text on the page – plenty of space for thoughts :) x

  • A friend sent me your blog a few weeks ago, and I have been checking back religiously (pun coincidental)! I really appreciate your vulnerability. I actually just took a deep breath, closed my eyes and hit “publish” on a very similar post less than an hour ago, so it was hugely relieving to come here and see that there are many of us with similar journeys! So grateful for a God who pursues regardless of our own efforts.

  • This post embodies what I love most about your writing – that there is no tidy wrap-up at the end. Simply beautiful writing, vulnerability, and some things for us readers to ponder about in our own lives. And religion is hardly something to be summed up in a tidy post. Thank you for showing us your “real.” I, too, struggle with doubts and religious paths, and my hunch is that there are way more of us out there with tangled necklaces than we sometimes let on. I’ve always been intimidated by what I call “Jesus It Girls” – the ones who seem to have their necklaces securely clasped and believe without a doubt. But time and again I’ve been humbled to find out that these same women – the Christian superstars – reveal that faith is also a daily struggle for them. Who knew?

    • Ah, I hear you, Amy – I have compared myself, many times, to the women you’re referencing. Here’s to wearing our necklace with love, trust and faith that it’s precisely what was intended for us. :)

  • I wish more people believed in religion like this. That is not perfect or flawless. That one does not need to be all or nothing in their approach. There is room for imperfection, there is room for doubt. There is room for perspective. And it does not make you any less of a believer. And it is not grounds to panic or repent.

  • New reader here (thanks to Kelle). I’ve binged on your past posts for the last couple days, and I’m feeling a bit heady. Great stuff here. I very much relate to this post in particular, having been raised in a religious environment where perfect trust and faith was expected and there was no room for questions or doubt. The analogy you’ve made is perfect.

  • Love, love, love this! Your words are my thoughts – put so clearly and concisely – you are amazing to read!

  • You know it took me a while to comment here, because it was like reading about my past (ouch). I grew up in a conservative religious home and community, and did the whole youth ministry path — a good 20+ years,
    I should say. Maybe halfway through those 20 or so years, the questions, pauses, lapses and the “knots” came. I have so many more questions now, and I can probably identify myself with your knotted necklace. I AM knotted up, complicated. I haven’t gotten God or myself figured out, and likely never will, but that’s ok for me. Before, the old me would have judged me for doubting or questioning my faith. Today, I just know it’s ok to not be OK, to ask as many questions as I can… because it’s when I’m in those moments that really feel a gut-deep prayer from within.

    Sorry for the loooong comment. Haha! But once again, you hit home for me and so many others, it seems. Thanks for writing this!

  • I just stumbled on this blog post after looking at one of your DIY projects. Can I just say that this is refreshing to hear? I changed religions in college, and it was a trying time. I am so happy now though, and I wouldn’t do anything to change it….but I still have those doubting days. It’s refreshing to hear someone be open about religion.

    • Ah, thank you for sharing that, Kim! I don’t know that we’ll ever have it figured out, but I like the search. :)

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